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Where’s the beef? (Raised, slaughtered and processed?)

Dan Weissmann Nov 19, 2013
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Consumers who are curious about where their steak was born are about to find out.  Or at least, they’re about to get the chance.  

A ribeye can be a dual citizen. It’s not unusual for cattle to be born in Mexico, then shipped to the U.S. to be fattened up, and slaughtered at a processing plant here. 

For the last few years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has required anybody selling a bi-national pork chop to disclose that. The label may say, “Product of the U.S. and Mexico.”

Canada and Mexico complained to the World Trade Organization that those rules essentially discriminated against their ranchers and farmers. The World Trade Organization agreed.

The new rules up the ante.  Now, there are more details and specific language.  Starting Saturday, new regulations will require that meat labels tell us where the animal was born, where it lived, and where it died.   

Erik Lieberman, a lawyer for the Food Marketing Institute, which represents supermarkets, says the new rules place burdens on grocers.

Also, he’s not wild about the language.  “‘Slaughtered, is unappetizing,” he says.  

Of course, they could use “harvested” instead.  Lieberman says, “’Harvested’ isn’t much better, to be honest.”

There’s not a lot of evidence people will actually pay more for meat born-and-raised (and killed) in the U.S., according to Jayson Lusk, an agricultural economist at Oklahoma State University

“Consumers say they want information on labeling,” he says. “But when you observe their behavior in the marketplace, you just don’t see that desire tranlated into dollars when people are shopping.”

Glynn Tonsor, an agricultural economist at Kansas State University, has looked at the effect of the current labeling rules.

If “effect” is the right word.

“Two-thirds of the U.S. public doesn’t even know we have country of origin labeling,” he says. “So the reaction to that is, it’s hard to say they’re going to pay more if they don’t know it exists.”

Even if the new labels are more prominent, they probably won’t affect shopping for Thanksgiving dinner.  They hit beef, chicken, pork, lamb and goat.  But turkey gets a pass.

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